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Uncertain Child Care, Uncertain Jobs: The New Reality For SA Families During The Coronavirus

Updated April 3: A map created by NowCastSA has been added to this story. The map shows where families can pick up free breakfast and lunch.

This story was originally published on March 16.

The coronavirus outbreak has upended daily life and put livelihoods at risk.

Amid that uncertainty, families who rely on free and reduced-price meals were able to pick up free breakfast and lunch at schools across Bexar County on Monday, the first day schools were closed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

At Lanier High School on San Antonio’s West Side, cars full of families pulled into a circular driveway to pick up lunch for their children. The outdoor, drive-through setting is designed to help keep people apart and protect them from potentially being exposed to the virus.

After telling a school official how many children were in the car, cafeteria workers grabbed milk cartons out of an ice-packed portable cooler and added them to sack lunches for each child.

Related: San Antonio Area School Districts Close Amid COVID-19, Most Will Offer Curbside Lunch

Leticia Tapia brought her grandchildren Ariana, 6;  Aydenn, 7; and Jordin, 11, to pick up lunches. She lives around the corner, so they walked to the school.

She said the meal pickup is a blessing for her family because having her young grandkids home all day is an extra burden on their pocketbook.

“They're constantly, constantly eating and eating and eating, so it's hard,” Tapia said.

With school canceled, Tapia is watching her grandkids while her daughter is at work. She said they’re running her a bit ragged.

“I’m going crazy,” she said, laughing. “I was telling my daughter that she's got to do something like study (with the kids) because they can't be without the education. They need their education.”

She may soon have some help keeping the kids busy — the San Antonio Independent School District plans to distribute work packets and remote learning material if they stay closed next week. Other area school districts are also finalizing remote learning plans.

But Ariana, Aydenn and Jordin may be spending their days with their grandma for weeks to come, depending on how the virus spreads this week. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Sunday that some Texas schools could be out for the rest of the year.

Father-of-three Junior Galvan is worried the travel bans and event cancellations will leave him and his wife without jobs.

Galvan drove to Lanier in a red truck with his wife, three kids and two nephews.

“They were supposed to be in school, and this was, like, unplanned,” Galvan said. “That's 20 meals (this week) that we didn't (plan) for. So, I mean, this helps out a lot.”

He and his wife work at a hotel downtown — he’s a maintenance engineer, and she does room cleaning inspections. They think they’re about to get laid off because San Antonio isn’t getting many visitors.

“By the end of the week, I heard that they're just going to close down hotels. And they were giving us like, one (extra) day off. And then this week, three (extra) days off,” Galvan said. “And that's like, now we have zero money, you know?”

Galvan said he hopes to find side jobs if he gets laid off. He used to work in construction. But for the time being, he’s stuck in limbo, working a job he might not have in a week or two.

Arlene Esparza, Lanier High School’s family and community engagement specialist, was on hand during the meal pickups to help pass out food and connect with families. She plans to make calls to families this week to let them know the school is here to support them.

“This is impacting all of our families, not just with food, but even things like with employment, child care,” Esparza said.

Lanier gave 30 students breakfast and 221 students lunch on Monday. Samantha Regalado with SAISD’s child nutrition department said Lanier normally serves more than 800 students lunch every day. She expects more families to come later in the week.

“I definitely anticipate the word getting out,” Regalado said. “I feel like as we go on throughout the week parents will adjust their schedules and/or they’ll learn what’s available for their kids.”

SAISD served meals at eight high schools throughout the district on Monday. The district plans to expand to 26 locations by Wednesday. Breakfast is from 8–9 a.m., and lunch is from 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org, on Instagram at camille.m.phillips and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.